Why STEM is the key to technology innovation

History shows that without basic knowledge and basic science knowledge in the mix, innovation progresses poorly. Thomas Edison, for example, removed virtually all science from the equation as he groped his way toward the commercialization of the light bulb. His rival, the deeply insightful Tesla, on the other hand, functioned more like a basic scientist, solving problems that we didn’t know existed, and arguably, was the greater innovator. The basics of physics and chemistry are constantly changing the world we live in.

Israel has one of the best formats for technology innovation. Through their ‘start-up’ programs, they are able to separate innovation from commercialization. Innovation requires an intellectual base not required in a commercial world. Once an idea is technically resolved, the by-product of that idea is sold as an individual product or as a company. The creative scientists move on to the next great innovation. Nikola Tesla was one of those mad scientists who kept on inventing and ended up dying a poor man. However, some of his creative ideas are still being addressed today.

Basic science or basic knowledge can lead to technology innovation, which in turn can lead back to even more knowledge. Think, for a moment, about all the sophisticated instruments that have been developed by technologists to study the atom, biology or deep space. Take the cell phone with all its digital wizardry for example; it’s the basic physics and the underlying sciences of electromagnetism, electronics and communications and signal processing that deeply inform those digital breakthroughs, and make them possible.

Private capital always wants more immediate results, and a more immediate return on its innovation investments, puts long-term basic research at a funding disadvantage. Thomas Edison realized this and that is why we had the uncondensed light bulb for decades before finally evolving to the LED. It can be argued that Edison actually succeeded while Tesla ended up in obscurity. However, no one will deny that humanity lost an immense amount by not supporting Tesla’s innovations, especially his wireless power transfer, which is finally being implemented for many electronic devices.

Sometimes new technology can be very disruptive, but it is the only way we will be able to improve it and the benefits it gives mankind. We don’t want a society where every time a light switch is turned on, people are amazed and awestruck by what they think is magic or a miracle. But this is what we see on those street interviews by late night TV talk shows. It is embarrassing to watch how ‘stupid’ some of these people really are.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics—STEM, and therefore, STEM education are vital to our future, the future of our country and the future of our children. STEM is everywhere; it shapes our everyday experiences.

And now we are entering an even more complex technology era with nanoscale material development, 3-D manufacturing, robotics with artificial intelligence, endless nuclear energy and so much more. Medical sciences (biology) are also evolving and the POTUS goal of curing cancer is just around the corner. Some of this technology will be very disruptive and jobs, as we know them today, may not be there in the future. New technology will bring new job descriptions and will probably require a different basic knowledge and science knowledge foundation.

According to the Dept. of Labor, 8 out the top 10 fastest growing occupations are STEM related. There is yet another reason why STEM education is so important. Every election depends on choosing leaders who know how to base decisions on sound economics and how to evaluate statistics.

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